[CCK08] Definitions

I have my problems with “What is?” definitions because often they don’t focus on how a term of ordinary language is connected to related concepts of every day usage, but they ambitiously try to describe deeper meanings that seem most interesting in theoretical, philosophical, ethical, or actionable ways.

My discomfort with such deep brooding is not only due to my lack of philosophical training. Rather, I think that even the ordinary language meaning of knowledge is already interesting enough to be discussed in the light of today’s changes, and it is a pity to omit this discussion.

However, such ordinary language terms use to have multiple senses, and for “knowledge” I found in Merriam-Webster’s four major ones of them, two of which are marked as obsolete or archaic, and the remaining two are grouped around the concepts of

  • someone’s personal knowing, and
  • “the sum of what is known : the body of truth, information, and principles acquired by humankind“.

(These two can probably be mapped to the distinctions at the very bottom of Downes’ “Types of Knowledge”.)

The latter sense, the “body” of knowledge, is certainly something that is, in many contexts of everyday language, perceived as a thing, that can be stored in an encyclopedia and acquired from there – no matter how much we doubt the relevance of this sort of knowledge now. (And it is this sort of knowledge that fuels the discussion about carrying it externally or internally – as in Lisa‘s excellent reminding of intellectual history – or in technological devices.)

I keep in mind this sense of the term “knowledge” when I agree with Bill Harshbarger who discovers this sort of object thinking even in “those who view knowledge as made up of neural connections in the brain”. I also was surprised that some seem to think that, in connectivism, the knowledge thing is simply transported through social connection pipes instead of using the vehicle of books.

But he goes on to reject “imagining connections once again as quasi-physical things”, and suggests a more dynamic conception. I think this is too abstract and slants toward the more philosophical way of definition mentioned above.

I think the connection, as the key element of connectivism, may be very concretely imagined and modelled by the metaphor of a line connecting two nodes, because then the essential distinctions are much easier to analyse. For instance, simple knowledge assertions like “Paris is the capital of France” can be imagined as connections that all have equal strength of a binary value 1 or 0, while the more complex knowledge constituents have varying strenghts between 1 and 0.

Even with the special case of equal connection strength, the interesting comparison of DIK (see also the more philosophical, wisdom oriented thread on DIKW in the Moodle forums) can be explained in a way that I would call connectivist.

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